Texas A&M-designed ‘Earthquake Game’ Sharpens Minds for Disaster Recovery

By: Texas A&M Press Release
By: Texas A&M Press Release

As the news anchors who dived under their desks during this week’s earthquake in California can tell you, when the ground starts shaking, it’s no fun at all. But thanks to a new board game designed by researchers at Texas A&M University, a bit of fun can be had by students as they figure out the best ways for communities to recover after a quake.

Abigail Perkins, science education doctoral student, along with help from her advisor Carol Stuessy, designed the board game as part of Perkins’ research and development dissertation on educational gaming. Stuessy is an associate professor of science education, Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture in the College of Education & Human Development.

The game invites players to develop an urban environment that reduces loss of property and lives following an earthquake. Perkins, who served as a graduate research assistant and coordinator for Earthquake Engineering Education Project (EEEP) workshops, incorporated information into the game about urban infrastructure, city council decision-making, and stewardship of urban areas and resources, and integrated a variety of STEM-related careers.

“The game is designed to enhance a player’s creative and critical thinking, planning and all sorts of higher-order thinking skills,” says Perkins. As part of the research, she had teachers play the game during an EEEP workshop, then interviewed them and used the data to improve the game.

Anchored on earthquake engineering, the game can be used by teachers to show students how to apply engineering in real-life scenarios and to provide opportunities to practice 21st century workplace skills.

During the game, players work in one of four game groups, drawing cards to serve as members of a city council. Each group works together while competing against the other city council group. Players choose what to build in their city and how to manage resources. There are collaborative and competitive aspects, says Perkins, and the learning experience is different for every player and team, based on what they want to get out of the experience. At the end of the game, the group with the most ‘people points’ wins.

The game also incorporates plenty of career references. For example, the best earthquake resilient structures may cost more, so a player will need people to develop codes and inspectors to ensure the codes are being followed.

“We get this idea that engineers work alone, but they are socially involved with all kinds of other people − architects, building framers, landscape architects. All this comes together in the game to provide real-life scenarios,” says Stuessy.

During development, Perkins started with eight focus groups that included engineers, science educators and ‘gamers,’ and recorded them all. “They provided great strategic feedback, especially the gamers. We then built and tested the game with teachers,” noted Perkins. She then created a prototype game for high school students to play.

Lisa Rachal and Gary Fry, researchers in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering, were involved in the engineering component of EEEP. Last summer, they produced a high-quality, ready-to-use version of the game that was presented at a conference in the fall.

But how would one implement this type of game play into the classroom? Texas is home to 70 T-STEM academies and seven blended early college high school T-STEM academies serving more than 40,000 students across the state. Stuessy thinks these would be ideal for implementing the game. “This game could also be modified for use in a variety of environments and disciplines, for volunteer groups or even soil science students,” she says.

During an evaluation where two groups of high school students played the game, Perkins says they seemed to be having fun, “We brought in pizza for dinner. It came a little early, so I asked if they wanted to stop and pause and finish the game later,” she says. “They didn't even hear me. In fact, two of the students who had just finished a tennis tournament waited to eat until they finished the game first!”

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